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Gibson writes: "There is no doubt that [Sandra] Fluke would do a fine job as a state senator in Sacramento, but the endorsement by Emily's List shows the true problem within our movement - our lack of intersectionality."

Should Sandra Fluke have been the choice to replace Henry Waxman? (photo: Getty Images)
Should Sandra Fluke have been the choice to replace Henry Waxman? (photo: Getty Images)

Our Movement Must Desegregate, or We'll Lose

By Carl Gibson, Reader Supported News

13 February 14


hen Sandra Fluke was called a “slut” by Rush Limbaugh for simply demanding contraception coverage, America ran to her defense. When Fluke testified before Congress about her story, she spoke eloquently about how this particular women’s justice issue also impacts the economic stability of women all over the country when threatened. And when she spoke before thousands at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, she proved that she has both the rhetorical skill and the passionate drive necessary to truly stand up for women and the economically marginalized of society. So when Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) announced his retirement, Fluke intended to run to be his replacement.

However, after Emily’s List – the cream of the crop of endorsements for female candidates seeking federal office – made it a point to endorse Wendy Greuel for that seat, Fluke announced she would run for state senate instead. The endorsement of Greuel is particularly short-sighted: she ran as a fiscal conservative in the 2013 mayoral race in Los Angeles. While Greuel may be a champion on reproductive rights and abortion access, which is the single issue of focus for Emily’s List, she proposed eliminating Los Angeles’ business tax and promoted charter schools and “school choice,” which usually means public money funding private schools instead of public education. Greuel’s economic policies would increase inequality, and make life generally harder for both women and men.

There is no doubt that Fluke would do a fine job as a state senator in Sacramento, but the endorsement by Emily’s List shows the true problem within our movement – our lack of intersectionality. If we truly want to achieve our goals of economic justice, reproductive rights, climate mitigation, immigration rights, and an end to poverty, racism and war, we have to think intersectionally.

“If I’m struggling from my issue, and it’s the most important issue to me, because that’s where my wound is, I have to open my heart and say, she’s got a wound too,” said Eve Ensler, author of "The Vagina Monologues" and lead organizer of One Billion Rising. “My struggle has got to be connected to her wound and her struggle, so we can keep widening and keep strengthening, so we can talk about true justice.”

Ensler was speaking about February 14th’s V-Day, an international day of action known as One Billion Rising for Justice, as part of the “State of Female Justice in America” panel hosted by Columbia University’s Institute on Intersectionality and Social Policy.

In 2013, One Billion Rising – a global dance flashmob – was organized in 207 countries, trended nationally on Twitter in seven of those countries, and made 600 million total media impressions. Ensler said because 1 in 3 women in the world have been raped and beaten, that makes for roughly 1 billion women around the world who she wanted dancing in public. According to Ensler, because women who have been raped are often less confident in their own space, the act of dancing is the act of taking back that public space and showing global solidarity with women all over the world. In 2014, the February 14th action has been changed to “One Billion Rising for Justice.”

“Justice is, for me, is restoring the primacy of connection. We just don’t connect with each other or each other’s issues anymore. We need to look at justice as connective, how we connect causes and connections, how we connect the whole story of violence, and look at the whole history of injustice, and see it as systemic, rather than our own single issue,” Ensler said. “It’s connected to this racist, patriarchal, neoliberal, capitalist framework. Unless we begin to hook this up, we’re never gonna move it further.”

One example of women’s justice intersecting with economic justice is the ongoing strikes organized by fast food and retail workers. In December 2013, fast food workers walked off the job, demanding better wages and the right to organize a union in over 100 cities. And on Black Friday, Walmart workers went on strike protesting the fact that despite being employed by the most profitable company in the history of the world, they have to rely on public assistance to meet basic needs. At least 110 of those workers were arrested in acts of civil disobedience.

“The restaurant industry is the largest employer of young women all over the world, and these women are subject to the treatment of people who feel they can touch or treat them however they want,” said Saru Jayaraman of the Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC), and author of Behind the Kitchen Door. Jayaraman has been working with ROC United for the last decade, organizing restaurant workers to take a stand for better working conditions.

Jayaraman cited what she called “the other NRA,” referring to the National Restaurant Association, the prime opponent of raising wages for tipped workers. In 1996, Herman Cain, who was then the president of the other NRA, made a deal with Congress, saying his organization wouldn’t oppose overall minimum wage increases as long as the federal minimum wage for tipped workers stayed frozen at $2.13 an hour. Even though the restaurant industry is by far the fastest-growing and most increasingly profitable industry, tipped workers have been making $2.13 an hour for over 23 years now. Tipped workers also suffer from 3 times the poverty rate of workers in other industries, and 70 percent of tipped workers are women. 37 percent of on-the-job sexual harassment claims reported come from the restaurant industry.

“If you live on $2.13 an hour, you don’t live on a wage at all, because it’s almost all gone after taxes. You live entirely on your tips,” said Jayaraman. “When you live entirely on your tips, you are at the mercy of the largesse of people who dine in your establishment, who can touch you, treat you, talk to you as inappropriately as they want, and you have no recourse because that is your income, the people who are paying your tips.”

One of the most pressing issues within movements is bridging the gap between what organizers call “silos.” For example, some people work on immigration, some work on workers’ rights, some work on climate change, some work on austerity. Duncan Meisel, environmental organizer at as well as a former US Uncut organizer, is working on breaking down those silos so movement organizers can more effectively share space, instead of competing for it. Meisel is speaking at the Brecht Forum in New York City on February 20th, 2014, about how climate change and austerity-based social movements can intersect.

“Climate change is not an issue. It’s a global crisis that impacts the fundamental conditions surrounding every major economic and transnational justice issue we care about,” Meisel wrote on his Tumblr. “From the sweatshops of Bangladesh, filled with people displaced by flooding in years of unprecedented storms, to the changing patterns of immigration bringing more people to the US as community support systems are destabilized by changing weather patter[n]s, as well as the immigrant families here who face incredible hurdles in rebuilding from disaster.”

“Much of your work already IS climate work. Adding the climate lens and language to your work is potentially strategic,” Meisel continued. “Not least of all because it bridges a gap to connect our struggles as we confront a global crisis.”

The struggle against neoliberal colonization of economic systems is a global one, as is the fight to reduce the impact of climate change and the fights for a more equitable immigration system and for women’s reproductive rights. The sooner we can get rid of the harmful, counterproductive single-issue politics perpetrated by people like those who make endorsement decisions at Emily’s List, the sooner we can win our goals. We cannot afford to remain so narrowly focused, or we’ll lose not only our own fight, but every other fight that intersects.

Carl Gibson, 26, is co-founder of US Uncut, a nationwide creative direct-action movement that mobilized tens of thousands of activists against corporate tax avoidance and budget cuts in the months leading up to the Occupy Wall Street movement. Carl and other US Uncut activists are featured in the documentary "We're Not Broke," which premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. He currently lives in Madison, Wisconsin. You can contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , and follow him on twitter at @uncutCG.

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